Life Cycle Assessment of Cellulose Nanofibrils Production by Mechanical Treatment and Two Different Pretreatment Processes
Journal article, 2015
Nanocellulose is a bionanomaterial with many promising applications, but high energy use in production has been described as a potential obstacle for future use. In fact, life cycle assessment studies have indicated high life cycle energy use for nanocellulose. In this study, we assess the cradle-to-gate environmental impacts of three production routes for a particular type of nanocellulose called cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) made from wood pulp. The three production routes are (1) the enzymatic production route, which includes an enzymatic pretreatment, (2) the carboxymethylation route, which includes a carboxymethylation pretreatment, and (3) one route without pretreatment, here called the no pretreatment route. The results show that CNF produced via the carboxymethylation route clearly has the highest environmental impacts due to large use of solvents made from crude oil. The enzymatic and no pretreatment routes both have lower environmental impacts, of similar magnitude. A sensitivity analysis showed that the no pretreatment route was sensitive to the electricity mix, and the carboxymethylation route to solvent recovery. When comparing the results to those of other carbon nanomaterials, it was shown that in particular CNF produced via the enzymatic and no pretreatment routes had comparatively low environmental impacts.